Making Ambleside Online “Click!”

If you’ve ever looked at the Ambleside Online curriculum you have probably felt a little overwhelmed. Maybe you took one glance and said “nope!”

Well, I dismissed it pretty early on and when I was researching what curricula we’d use for first grade something made me take a second look. I’m so glad that I did.

I’d like to share how Ambleside started to make sense to me and how I order it to keep it simple.

year 1 books1


First, I realized that it isn’t just books that you read or this whole feast of subjects that you cram in to make sure they are covered. Ambleside Online is just a curriculum, that’s all. It’s a tool that helps you get the job done. What makes this amazing is how you lay out this feast of subjects and how you approach reading these books.

Ambleside Online is a Charlotte Mason based curriculum. Charlotte Mason is an approach or methodology and there are countless different ways and curricula available to follow a Charlotte Mason education. There are several aspects to a Charlotte Mason education and in order to better understand Ambleside Online you have to know some basics behind the Charlotte Mason approach.

There’s a lot. I know. I’ve been reading about Charlotte Mason on other blogs and in books and I have more to go. I’ve probably read the whole Ambleside site but I have yet to delve into Miss Mason’s original writings.

When I realized that Ambleside is more than a booklist, I began to actually read through the introduction page and the FAQ page and the articles and topical discussions. While reading, it all started to come together; this is actually quite simple, yet it’s so rich and full and challenging and beautiful is what I thought to myself.

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sold at the beginning of my Ambleside journey. I thought why should we learn about British history and why would we start way back in the first century. I thought we should learn history that would be more relevant. We should begin our lessons with early American history, when it wasn’t too long ago.

But then I started to look up books and drive myself crazy, wondering if the books I chose would be appropriate in content or length or if the book was actually a good book. I started to wonder if I would have to pre-read everything. And there were so many books I wanted to include. I realized that scheduled on Ambleside for history reads there were three books for the whole entire year. Three. Okay, so if I want to teach American History, how do I choose three comparable books?

I was making things much more difficult than they needed to be. I took a breath and opened one of the links next to a book that was available online (and most of the assigned readings are available online, for free). I read one of the stories that was assigned for week one. Wow, that is the story she gets to hear. I opened another book online. This is what I get to read to my daughter, she will love this! I opened one more book and read the assigned reading. I can’t believe we would have missed this!

PicMonkey Collage1

Now that I had done my research, thoroughly, and read all about Ambleside and read a few of the assigned readings, I was ready to plan it out. I was ready to accept Ambleside Online completely.

The easiest way, I have found, to make Ambleside Online not look overwhelming is breaking the assignments into three categories: Daily Work, Readings, and Weekly Work.

The Daily Work consists of copywork, phonics or reading instruction, math and foreign language. These are the subjects you may typically do at the table. Readings are the assigned passages or chapters from the books scheduled on Ambleside Online. For example, in year 1, there are between six and eight assigned readings per week. The readings you spread out across your school week. The Weekly Work are the subjects you focus on once a week: Nature Study, Handicraft, Picture Study, Composer Study, Timeline, Mapping, Hymns, Folksongs, and Art.

We keep the lessons short, 10 to 15 minutes. This is part of the beauty. There are many reasons for this, the primary reason is practicing the Habit of Attention. The total amount of time we spend doing our school work is about two hours. This leaves the remainder of the day for free time to play, be outside, meet with friends and of course we moms need a time to run errands or work around the house.

I work from a checklist in my planner. The Daily Work is listed at the top and starts off blank for the week. As we complete 10 to 15 minutes in each subject for the day, I put a check mark and write out which lesson was finished. Reading instruction/ phonics and math are not provided by Ambleside Online. They do list suggested programs. Then I list the readings and as they are completed they, too, get a check mark. Then the Weekly Work is listed. Each day we do 1-2 subjects and they differ depending on the day of the week.

Mentally, seeing only three categories of schoolwork a day makes it less daunting than seeing 16 or more subjects that need to be completed. I hope that my explanation has helped Ambleside Online “click.” I hope that it has become more clear. And, that you too can find this to be a delightful way to educate your children.



Taking a Closer Look at Ambleside Online

The first time I looked at Ambleside Online I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t understand the schedule or how one would fit all of it in.

closer look at AO

It seemed like it was overkill and just too difficult to manage, you know making sure that nature study (how do I do that!) was done and composer study (I don’t know any composers!), and picture study (if I don’t know what this painting means how can I teach it to my kids!), and handicraft (handi-what? I hate crafts!), and recitation, and timeline, and mapping…

But then as I was doing my research for first grade, honing in on what curricula to use for this and that and the other, I came across Ambleside once again. I read it. I studied the schedule. I saw how many of the books were available online. I read passages of the books. And it was all coming together.

It just clicked! And it was all so simple. So lovely and rich. And, I’m hooked.

My homeschool journey began about three years ago when hubby and I decided that would be the way to go. I started to research everything I could and found out that I liked Charlotte Mason but I liked Unit Studies too. I found a few different curricula that I loved for history and science that I thought would be perfect for when Elle got to be in second or third grade. There was a bit from this learning style and pieces from that learning style, I could see it coming together. I was going to be an Eclectic homeschooler.

Fast forward through a couple of years of play, a year of Kindergarten, which consisted of inconsistent lessons in phonics and math with lots of books and playing. Just a few short months ago I was ready to get plans laid out for First grade. It was time to add in the science, history, geography and everything else, more formally than what Five in a Row had to offer. You know with a “real” curriculum.

(c) The Armitt Museum and Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) The Armitt Museum and Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I wasn’t finding exactly what I wanted for history because the ones I liked were more appropriate for grade three and above. I remember Charlotte Mason and the living book approach. I finally decided on TruthQuest History. I loved that I could decide which books to read and which topics to cover. But there was still missing parts to the plan. I kept on looking around and Charlotte Mason had brought me back to Ambleside Online. I kept hearing great things about it.

As I was reading through the site I wanted to know more; I was getting really excited because it was not only making sense but it was a whole curriculum that I could picture us doing – for years to come.

So, what is Ambleside Online? It is a free homeschool curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason’s classically-based principles to prepare children for a life of rich relationships with everything around them: God, humanity, and the natural world. (Stated on the AO website). This was created as a labor of love by other homeschooling mommas. They offer much more than just a curriculum: original Charlotte Mason writings and materials, a community support forum, articles and posts from experienced homeschool parents and other resources.

Next time I’d like to share how to use Ambleside Online; I’d like to help make it “click” for you too.


Kindergarten Ready or Not?

Ah, the question that all parents ask: do I send my four going on five year old to kindergarten this year or next year? I was faced with this predicament last year with my then four year old daughter.


I had recently attended a homeschool convention in our area and was making preparations for the next school year. I get a little eager when it comes to planning. But the trouble for me was deciding on curriculum. There is a pretty big difference between what I deem appropriate for preschool and for kindergarten.

In my opinion, preschool is more relaxed and the most important thing is reading to my little ones, exploring, playing and talking to them about what they see and experience. In fact, I probably don’t “do” preschool the way a lot of other moms might. And I’m okay with that. My philosophy aligns with the adage that “play is the work of a child” (Maria Montessori). But, I digress, my education philosophies can be saved for another post.

Kindergarten is still a very playful and exploratory stage. However, learning to read and beginning to see math formally becomes important. I researched which curriculum I wanted to use and found a few that I really liked. I thought that they would be great for us to work through. Then it dawned on me… do I really need all this now?

My daughter is super smart. I know she wants to start to learn how to read. I think she would enjoy doing school. But there was still something in me that was asking if she was really ready. I found out that in our state (you can find your state’s cutoff date here), children who turn five after January 1st may go to kindergarten the following September. My daughter’s birthday is at the end of January so that would make her one of the oldest if she were to go to public school. Coincidentally, the state where I went to kindergarten, the rule was that children must be five on or before September 1st the year they begin kindergarten. My birthday is at the end of September, so I was one of the oldest kids in my class. By the time I was in high school I didn’t like being the oldest. I felt that I was behind the other kids, and that I should be smarter because I was older. I really let the age thing bother me; I carried that through college as I bounced from major to major. I thought that I was “running out of time” and that I was “too old” to still be in school (crazy, I know, but I let society dictate what I was supposed to be doing and that I didn’t “measure up”).

My experience influenced my thoughts about why I wanted to put my daughter in kindergarten “early.” I didn’t want her to compare herself to other kids her age and think that she wasn’t smart enough because she was a grade behind. I talked to my mom about whether she had a choice to start me “early” or not. The conversation was enlightening: she did have a choice and she was considering sending me when I was four about to be five. She had talked to a few other moms and found out that those who sent their child to kindergarten “early” regretted it. Some kids even repeated kindergarten. The moms who waited were glad. The decision came down to maturity.


One teeny tiny year makes a big difference in maturity between a four and five year old. Attention span, self control, and emotional and social development change much in these years. A child is usually considered a “big kid” at five years old. They are showing greater independence and they begin to gain better control of their emotions.

It makes sense. Why push your child when they are not emotionally ready? I continued this conversation with my mother in law. She was saying the exact same things. I talked with friends who have kids who are only a year ahead of my daughter. They agreed with the maturity issue.

Finally, my hubby and I decided that we would wait. We are going with the state’s cutoff date. We don’t see the need to push our daughter at this stage in the game. It doesn’t mean that we won’t teach her certain things because it’s at a different grade level. It just means that childhood is such a short period of time. This is the time where we want to foster a love of learning. We want to make learning as natural as possible. And for us, a kindergarten curriculum at age four is simply too much.

Feel free to weigh in, what was your deciding factor for starting your child in kindergarten and at what age?

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How I Began My Homeschool Research

ID-100305236Dear Reader,

Congratulations! You have made the decision to homeschool (or maybe you are looking for that little push in the right direction). So now what?

It wasn’t too long ago that I made it my mission to figure out this whole homeschooling thing. Two years ago my attitude was a little bit apprehensive. I really wasn’t sure if I could stay home all day with my kids. Would they really be able to focus and learn from me? As I scoured the web I learned more and more about what other moms out there were doing. I learned that there were different methods and that some were not going to fit our family, while other methods made sense. I learned what our state required. I found out that there were families I knew who wanted to homeschool. My confidence was growing.

A little while later I was invited to join a couple of moms who got their kids together to do crafts and activities. Our little group still meets and we have evolved what we do to teaching small lessons, doing physical education, and going on field trips together. The kids are now great friends and we moms have become really close.

Then, it was about a year ago when my hubby and I went to a homeschool convention. I was so inspired, so encouraged, and now I know there is no other option but to homeschool my children. I have faith that this is what I am supposed to be doing. This is one area of my life in which I have complete confidence. Yes, I have questions about which curriculum will work best or if I am teaching the “right” stuff. I have tough days and I know there will be even tougher days ahead. But I know that if something isn’t working then we can try something different. I know that I can customize my children’s education to suit their learning style. I know that it’s more important to me that my children learn to love learning than it is to learn facts x, y, z. And I know that at home my kids can learn to seek, know, and love God.

My advice to any new homeschooler is to research everything you can, ask questions, and always remember your why. Why did you ultimately decide to homeschool? Knowing your why will keep you focused amidst all of the information and opinions you receive, which can be overwhelming. But when you focus on why you want to homeschool, all the information and opinions will go from being overwhelming to empowering.

Go forth and enjoy the adventure!


Image courtesy of pannawat at